Health care and COVID-19 pandemic top of mind at Atlantic Mayors Congress

Around 40 people from across Atlantic Canada are in Summerside for the Atlantic Mayors Congress.

'We can all learn from one another and it doesn't matter the size of the municipality'

P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, gave municipal leaders a presentation on the COVID-19 response so far, and what could happen in the days and weeks ahead. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Health care, the pandemic, and how municipalities are coping with COVID-19 were top of mind for officials at an annual Atlantic Mayors Congress in Summerside, P.E.I. Friday.

Around 40 people from across Atlantic Canada attended the annual event. Mayors and support staff are meeting in person to discuss a range of topics, including the impact of the pandemic on the local economy, housing challenges and climate change. 

"Every mayor and municipality gets a chance to talk about their community. What they did and what they're doing and what they're planning on doing," said Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart.

"We can all learn from one another. And it doesn't matter the size of the municipality you learn from every municipality." 

Different than normal

This is the 40th anniversary of the Atlantic Mayors Congress and safety protocols are in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart is hosting the conference. (CBC)

According to J.P. Desrosiers, the director of community services for the City of Summerside, the guests will be served at their tables as opposed to the traditional buffet. Staff are also monitoring bathroom capacities and making sure everyone is physically distancing. 

"It is different than our normal, you know, regional convention business," said Desrosiers.

"But it's something that I think was a welcomed opportunity for mayors to get together after such a challenging … last six months."

Physician recruitment

The day included presentations on how to recruit doctors and keep them in the community. Some members offered up their tips for filling those vacancies, like attending as many recruitment fairs as possible and trying to showcase the local community as best as possible.

P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, gave a presentation about P.E.I.'s response to the pandemic, and what could happen in the province with a second wave. She also took questions from the attendees, centred around back-to-school plans, vaccinations and isolation rules.

Morrison said no matter what the coming weeks and months look like, mayors in municipalities have a critical role to play. 

"They'll continue to play an important role, in public engagement and communication, but also as leaders, balancing the public health measures and the need for their municipalities to function economically," she said. 

"We really need our municipal leaders to be partners."

Rowan Caseley, mayor of Kensington, says the town might be forced to run a deficit this year. Something which is not currently allowed under the Municipal Government Act. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

That economic concern is top of mind for municipalities here on P.E.I. Facing decreasing revenues and increasing expenses, some smaller municipalities are anticipating a tough future. 

Rowan Caseley, the mayor of Kensington, said the town has lost out on revenue from the ice rink being closed and no fundraising over the summer. 

"It's going to be a struggle to try and stay within [budget] and without running a deficit this year. And we may end up having one just because [there's] nothing you can do. Some things you just have to do. We've had extra costs with extra sanitizing, extra staff, extra procedures, all of this stuff costs," said Casely. 

"You can't ignore it. You got to do it, and figure your way out after how to pay for it."

'A little bit tricky'

The conference is taking place at the Credit Union Place. Desrosiers said the space they're using inside the building can hold up to 350 people but to give everyone the proper amount of space, they limited attendance to 44 spots.   

"Everyone in the room, for example, when they wish to speak has to be microphoned because the room is so large and there's such a small number of people and everyone is so far apart," he said.

"So while they're a little bit tricky those guidelines, they're also important to follow and people are adhering to them." 

The 40th Atlantic Mayors Congress in taking place in Summerside. (CBC)

Bruce MacDougall, president of the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities, said those same gathering limits pose some challenges for municipalities looking to hold public meetings on big issues.  

"Even with our own municipality here in Summerside, we're very limited to who can attend if they want to attend. And if there was a major issue that came forth. We can only hold, you know, in our chambers maybe a half a dozen people. Well, that's if that's affecting, you know, 40 or 50 people, that's a small representative of that issue, right? So it has its challenges. And there's nothing like talking person-to-person," he said.

More from CBC P.E.I. 

With files from Nancy Russel and Travis Kingdon


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